Monday, August 14, 2006

A ROCKER GOES HIGHBROW

It was a remarkably nice morning in Washington. Clear with a respite from the paralyzing heat. Got in the plane for a short trip to Baltimore to pick up Paul Bachmann who is our Senior Programmer of the XM Classical cluster. He brought his Wife and very young daughter for a flight up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts to visit Tanglewood, a magical venue nestled in the woodsy and hilly region of the Northeast.

The flight was painless as our routing took us directly over JFK Airport with a magnificent view of Manhattan. We landed at Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A small airport you wouldn't want to deal with after dark as it's framed by hills, and offers a beautiful but hilly approach. After landing, we grabbed the car, got lost and ended up at the Jiminy Mountain Resort. I had trouble with the name since I'd never seen the word "Jiminy" used in any other way than referencing a cricket. I later found out that the resort is indeed named after that famous cricket. Why? I have no idea, but it's definitely the wackiest name for a resort in recent memory.

At 5pm we headed over to Tanglewood. As guests of the Boston Symphony, we got the "A" tour of the venue. I was pretty blown away. The show started at 8:30 but already the place was packed. Clearly the wine & brie crowd, but 17,000 of them! After decades of slogging through the beer and puke stained grounds of rock shows, this was the most polite and well manicured venue I've ever seen. Even the parking lots were turf, similar to a well manicured putting green. There was no cement...anywhere. Taking mental notes, the whole experience was very enlightening. I'd been to Classical shows before, but nothing quite like this. Woodstock for the well heeled.

I was hyped pretty well by both Paul and the Boston Symphony (BSO) people about the evening's performance. John Williams conducting the Boston Pops with guests including Yo Yo Ma and James Earl Jones. It was "Film Night" where they'd show clips of Star Wars and Memoirs of a Geisha on a giant screen as the orchestra played in sync with the film. OK...that sounds cool.

At 8:15 we crawled through the endless spreads of exotic food and wine and into the shed to our BSO provided front and center seats. There was a hushed excitement as the orchestra tuned up. Then the lights went down and John Williams appeared to a Metallica like roar of approval from the distinctly non Metallica crowd. A few opening remarks and the show began. I was blown away by the "sonics"..I forgot how powerful natural sound like this can be, especially when performed by such a large and virtuosic orchestra. It bowls you over. It is cinematic in quality. I'm pretty conditioned to "songs" at shows and these were clearly pieces rather than songs. It's easy to get bored if you let yourself. I fought that and tried to stay engaged in the pure majestic quality of the sound. For me, I had to put mental pictures to the music to stay engaged. It wasn't hard, and it was rewarding.

After about a half an hour, Yo Yo Ma joined in, the screen came down and he along with the orchestra played along with the visuals. Personally, I've always been a fan of brilliant musicianship. Early YES music among countless others did it for me. I was getting that same feeling tonight, but in a different way. Yo Yo Ma was transcendent. I knew he was a virtuoso but I couldn't help thinking "what is a cello player going to do"? Well..he did it. The sound he got from that instrument was every bit as powerful as the sound Jimi got out of his Strat. I've never heard anything like it. It was so pure...so perfect...so inventive. I DID get bored at times because the pacing is SO different from non Classical styles. You have to work at listening to this. I worked, and once again I found it incredibly rewarding. But it takes work...at least for me it did, but to say I was impressed, was an understatement.

After Yo Yo, there was an intermission. I was in one of those blissful "what the hell did I just witness" ? places. So we went backstage and saw Yo Yo's manager and witnessed Yo Yo clowning with some young kids. Here's this serious Classical icon playing around like an 8 year old. That was pretty cool. He was kinda goofy, in a fun way...a nice balance to the immaculate mind blowing playing, enhanced by an orchestra AND film. A tour de force on the senses.

I bought a root beer and headed back into the venue. Immediately greeted by two security agents chiding me for the audacity of bringing a soft drink into this temple of sound. OK...no problem, I swigged it and sat down. The BSO people introduced us to the head guy, but he was pretty busy hanging with the VIP's. And I'm talking VIP's. Steve Spielberg, Mia Farrow and the owners of pretty much every sports franchise were all on hand and sitting in our section.

Part two of the show begins. The booming Darth Vader aka James Earl Jones narrated the orchestra playing along to Star Wars film clips. He actually screwed up the first few lines which was pretty funny and actually took a bit of the tension out. The Star Wars segment was defiantly more ":accessible" but still had this powerful theater of the mind quality. In fact, the whole segment has an edge of humor to it including the orchestra playing the 2oth Century Fox theme as the performance began.

As the show concluded, 17,500 people started to calmly file out, buzzed by Chardonnay and a sense of serene musical intoxication. We headed to a tent to meet up with the BSO people and recount the night as the place thinned out.

I felt I had a musical education that night. I really wished more XMers could have been there. It was the other side of the coin. First off, there were 17,500 people there. That's huge and bigger than most traditional shows, and these events tend to be off the radar. Then there was the quality of the event....and the respect for the music. There was NO audience sound when the music started. Now of course this ISN'T rock n roll, about 180 degrees from it, but magical and significant in it's own right. Throughout the night I WAS wondering---what would a PInk Floyd show be like in this environment??!!

The ride back home was nice. Woke up freezing as he temperature was about 40. Something I haven't experienced in awhile. Paul's wife is a vet and I learned that to impersonate a dog bark you breathe in while barking not out. An interesting sound contrast to the prior evening's trip to another musical landscape.

6 Comments:

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Tony B. said...

What a fun evening! Hearing James Earl Jones mess up a few lines from a frightening, menacing character had to have been goofy. It reminds me of when I was confronted with veteran actor Roscoe Lee Browne. You would give him $20 just to hear him talk about going to the bathroom...
"I was in London. And I had to go to the Lou....."

 
At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

please don't get rid of MSNBC on xm! is it because you think people don't listen? i wonder why xm doesn't do more listener surverys? you must have close to 75% of your subscribers with internet access and email, so it isn't that you don't (or can't) know who they are...

if its contractural, then please find a way to let listeners know...

there is nothing like keith olberman or tucker or hardball on 'radio'

please save MSNBC

 
At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah Yo Yo Ma is gangsta, I love his work. I dig classical but hip-hop is my first love.

James
www.rex-radio.com

 
At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Woland said...

Hey, Lee, I was at that concert too. We went with another family and had a terrific time.

I hope that you weren't going to Tanglewood just for the fun of it, but had an ulterior motive like working out a deal with the BSO. About a year ago I emailed Paul Bachman asking if XM would ever broadcast live classical concerts (not "live" concerts recorded 20 years ago, but live at that moment as in truly live) and specifically mentioned Tanglewood as an example, since they're carried by the local public radio station. He replied that the licensing fees were just too high.

It would be great if XM could figure out a way to make this work. Imagine doing a deal with the BSO, or Chicago, Pittsburgh, Houston or St. Louis. There's got to be an orchestra smart enough to know that the exposure and branding of being the official orchestra of XM and having their entire season broadcast live would be worth negotiating a fee that XM could afford.

Classical music needs all the help it can get to survive and thrive, and satellite radio is one of the few outlets really supporting it.

 
At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Bob Olhsson said...

Musical genres have always been imposed after the fact and from the outside by marketers.

Duke Ellington put it best: "There is only good music and bad music." Great music cuts right across all genres.

 
At 2:59 AM, Blogger ai4i said...

I never would have thought of it but Mrs Bachmann is absolutely correct. When I bark exhaling, I sound like an American target with a big bull's eye on my shirt. When I bark inhaling, I sound like a dog. Woof woof!

 

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